Odd Alliances Form in Airport Battle
Politics has never made for stranger bedfellows than at Oxnard Airport.
In a dispute over a land-use plan that will guide development around the airport, the likely players have declared the most unlikely of alliances.
For the record:
12:00 a.m. Feb. 9, 1989 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 9, 1989 Home Edition Ventura County Part 9 Page 3 Column 3 Zones Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
A Jan. 12 article about the proposed Blueberry Park residential development near Oxnard Airport gave two different descriptions of the development’s size. The proposal calls for 73 homes.
Neighbors are defending developers who want to build hundreds of houses on agricultural land.
Pilots and operators of airport-related businesses are emphasizing the airport’s noise and potential hazards for those who work, live and shop nearby.
And Oxnard High School officials, who have been less than sympathetic to the airport because the school is under the airport’s flight path, are siding with aviation interests who contend that the Ventura County Airport Land Use Plan is inadequate.
“There are competing values here,” said Richard Spicer, director of the Ventura County Assn. of Governments, which is to decide whether to accept its staff’s proposed plan today. “The problem is finding some sort of balance.”
VCAG, acting as the county’s Airport Land Use Commission, will have a difficult time finding that balance amid the debate about the plan, which aims to limit noise and safety hazards around both the Oxnard and Camarillo airports.
The document makes recommendations about the nature of the development to be allowed by cities and the county around the airports. At least nine such projects will face the Oxnard City Council in the next few months.
Earlier this month, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors ruled that VCAG, which has been working on the plan since March, has to adopt one at its meeting today, which is the last time the group meets before it is replaced by the recently organized Ventura County Transportation Commission.
Not everyone, however, believes that the plan’s adoption is as urgent as the Board of Supervisors does.
Pilots said they worry that development allowed by the plan will eventually close the airport, much as it has nationwide at the rate of 70 general aviation airports a year.
High school officials said they want the plan to acknowledge that the school is in a potentially dangerous location so that the state can be persuaded to pay to relocate the aging campus.
And nearby residents, who in the past have opposed development on land where they now encourage it, are clear about their motives.
“If housing goes in, then the airport can’t expand,” said Cherie Johnson, who leads the neighborhood council in Sea View Estates, which is south of the airport.
Government association officials said they are trying to abide by a new state law that allows courts to block development near airports that lack land-use plans.
They said they are frustrated because the plan, which is made up of seven documents that have been adopted by different agencies in the past 10 years, has generated so much controversy.
Raznick & Sons, a Woodland Hills development company that has spent five years trying to find a suitable use for its properties near the airport, is upset too.
“We’re very frustrated with the way a non-issue has been made into a big event,” said Ellen Michiel, spokeswoman for the firm.
At issue are two Raznick development proposals that the Airport Land Use Commission will consider today after ruling on the plan.
New Shopping Center
One would put a seven-acre shopping center, Gold Coast Plaza, at the foot of the airport’s runway at West Fifth Street and Ventura Road. The center’s storage area and parking lot would extend into the airport’s “clear zone,” an area on either end of a runway in which the Federal Aviation Administration discourages construction.
The other would put Blueberry Park, a moderately priced residential development of 73 homes, on 37 acres south of the airport. The Oxnard Airport Authority, which reviews all construction near the airport, has voted against Blueberry Park because members expect that its residents, like those in neighborhoods farther away, will complain about airport noise.
Groups of pilots, airplane owners and airport businesses have portrayed the developments as at best an invitation for noise complaints and at worst an invitation for a disaster. They cite a 1972 disaster in which an F-86 Super Sabrejet crashed into an ice cream parlor near the runway at Sacramento’s Executive Airport, killing 22 people.
They said the Airport Land Use Plan has been designed to ensure speedy approval of Raznick’s projects.
“My feeling is that they’re putting the developer first, not the public welfare,” said Donna Hollingsworth, president of the Ventura Aviation Assn., a local pilots organization. “They’ve got it ass-backward.”
No ‘Safety Zones’
The group complained about the government association’s failure to establish “safety zones,” which would extend about 2,500 feet beyond and 750 feet on either side of the “clear zone” and effectively exclude the proposed shopping center, said Scott Raphael, an attorney for the aviation association.
He said a state handbook for developing airport land-use plans calls for such safety zones because of the high incidence of accidents during approaches to and departures from airports. He cited a section of the handbook that recommends in some cases limiting the number of people in a safety zone to three an acre.
“Even if the stores were empty of customers, you’d still have more people than that with just the people working there,” Raphael said. “The common sense of the handbook seems to be ignored.”
Spicer defended the land-use plan’s omission of safety zones by pointing out that the handbook’s provisions are merely recommendations and are unenforceable by law.
Officials of the state’s Division of Aeronautics, which distributes the book, agreed and added that few airports comply with the recommendations.
Raznick officials also question the handbook’s relevance.
“There’s no reason” to deny either project, said Michiel, adding that the Division of Aeronautics and the Federal Aviation Administration have vouched for the projects’ safety.
“There’s not an incompatibility that’s technical or objective,” she said. “It’s not a safety concern. It’s not a noise concern.”
Michiel said the Blueberry Park development represents a hard-won compromise with neighbors who had objected to plans to put the Oxnard Business Park in the same area two years ago.
Raznick also redesigned Gold Coast Plaza, which at one point put shops within the airport’s clear zone, to allay the concerns of planning officials.
“We’ve played according to the rules,” she said. “We’ve tried to do what the community wants.”
Scott Bollinger, a neighborhood council leader and staunch opponent of the Oxnard Business Park, said Raznick has conformed to the desire of residents in his Via Marina neighborhood and nearby Sea View Estates to provide a buffer between themselves and the airport.
Although the county’s policy has been to keep the airport at its present size, he said, neighbors won’t feel comfortable until further development prevents its expansion.
Residents favor the Gold Coast and Blueberry Park projects because they won’t attract increased air traffic as the Oxnard Business Park would have done, Bollinger said.
But aviation representatives view Bollinger’s support of development with suspicion, pointing out that he has complained in the past about noise and potential hazards near the airport.
“Yes, it does look like I’m in bed with the developer,” Bollinger said. “To the extent that they want to develop the property consistent with the wishes of the residents, that’s the way it should be.”
A different issue has stirred the concerns of officials at Oxnard High School, which is 1,800 feet east of the airport’s runway.
They complain that the land-use plan has overlooked their situation.
“The entire plan, which is over an inch thick, makes only casual mention of Oxnard High, and yet it is probably one of the most significant land uses adjacent to the airport,” said Charles Restivo, assistant business manager for Oxnard Union High School District.
Spicer countered that the land-use plan is designed only to address future uses around the airport, not existing ones.
Restivo said the decrepit school needs recognition in the report to persuade the state to pay $26 million to relocate the school.
“It would assist us a great deal and morally it should say that there is a serious inconsistency with the school located so close to the airport,” he said.